Fentanyl, which is a powerful synthetic opioid, has become a major concern in public health due to its effects on the brain and its incredibly high potential for addiction and overdose. Particularly in the United States, we have seen a massive uptick in the number of fentanyl-related overdoses in the last few years. Illegal drugs are now frequently laced with the deadly substance to cut costs and scale operations. In this blog, we share details about the dangerous drug and explore how it affects the brain.
Intro to Fentanyl
Fentanyl is like morphine but is anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent. It’s typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially following a major surgery. It’s also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. Though it is a legal drug, it is commonly replicated on the black market and sold as other illegal drugs.
How Fentanyl Affects the Brain
Fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opioid drugs bind to these receptors, they drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and total relaxation. This mechanism is similar to other opioids but is more potent in the case of fentanyl. Understandably, this high level of relaxation can be incredibly addictive. Especially for those in high-stress jobs or those dealing with mental health disorders, this level of relaxation can be dangerously alluring.
The Risk of Addiction to Fentanyl
The euphoria that fentanyl and other opioids produce, apart from relieving pain, can lead to psychological dependence and addiction. When a person becomes addicted to opioids, their brain is effectively rewired to depend on these substances. The craving for the euphoric effects, despite potential harmful consequences, characterizes opioid addiction. In this way, overcoming opioid addiction is especially difficult.
It often requires intensive treatment, such as an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) or inpatient programs. In some cases, hospitalization is necessary. An intervention may also be necessary if someone is resistant to getting help for their addiction.
Fentanyl Overdose Risks
Fentanyl’s potency is what makes it a very high-risk drug for overdose. Even a small dose can be deadly, especially if the person using it is not accustomed to taking opioids. An overdose of fentanyl might lead to respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, coma, and death. The risk is compounded when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, often without the user’s knowledge. In some cases, even inhaling the byproduct of fentanyl can be enough to elicit a negative reaction.
Long-Term Effects of Fentanyl on the Brain
Chronic use of fentanyl will inevitably lead to long-term changes in the brain, all of which are negative. It can result in a condition known as opioid-induced hyperalgesia, where the individual becomes more sensitive to pain. Additionally, long-term fentanyl use can also lead to hormonal imbalances and affect cognitive functions.
Stopping fentanyl suddenly after long-term use is known to lead to severe withdrawal symptoms as the brain tries to adjust to the absence of the drug. Symptoms can include severe cravings, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and muscle aches.
Impact of on Mental Health
Fentanyl use can also exacerbate underlying mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The drug’s effect on the brain’s reward system leads to a cycle of worsening mental health symptoms as the user becomes dependent on the drug to feel normal.
Addressing Fentanyl Abuse
Treatment for fentanyl addiction typically involves a combination of medication, counseling, and possibly support groups. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Behavioral therapies are used to help people change their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use, as well as increase healthy coping skills.
Prevention and Education
Public education about the dangers of opioid misuse, the risks of fentanyl, and the importance of proper prescription drug use is a powerful way to discourage illegal drug use. It’s also important to educate people about the signs of overdose and the availability of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to teens and adolescents. Without being fully aware of the dangers that exist, they are at risk of overdose.
The Role of Healthcare Providers
Healthcare providers need to play their part when it comes to controlling the fentanyl crisis. This includes prescribing opioids responsibly and monitoring their use closely. They’re also able to identify early signs of addiction and refer patients to appropriate treatment.
Fentanyl’s impact on the brain is concerning, as it rewires the brain in a way that harms the individual. Its high potency and risk of addiction and overdose make it a particularly dangerous drug, as well. Understanding the effects on the brain can help deter people from trying the drug and can help those who currently use it to quit safely.
New Dimensions Can Help!
New Dimensions specializes in treating alcoholism and substance abuse. Sometimes a family member will seek treatment after an intervention. A drug addiction intervention is a structured process where family members, friends, and other concerned individuals confront the addict about the consequences of their addiction and the impact that it has had on their lives. If you have a family member who would benefit from an intervention, call 800-685-9796. To learn more about treatment for addictions or mental health issues, visit www.nddtreatment.com or contact us at 800-685-9796.
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